Seven essentials to safe, fun travel for the single woman
Sassy, single and safe: with ever more women travelling the world solo, we asked experts for their tips to avoid danger on the road
Ever more women are choosing to explore the world solo, something once deemed daring and dangerous. A recent Yahoo poll found 72 per cent of women prefer to wander abroad alone than with a companion and, in the past six years, the number of companies catering to solo woman travellers has risen more than threefold as the tourism trade looks to cater to this growing market.
Beth Santos, founder and CEO of female travel network Wanderful, puts the increase down to modern women being more economically independent and delaying marriage and children until later on in life. These combined create a ‘perfect storm’ – more women are getting interested in going out in the world and don’t necessarily mind doing it without a partner or friend.”
However, being a sassy single female traveller is not without its dangers, and safety is paramount. “As a female, I find myself more physically vulnerable when I travel," says Santos. “I often think about my safety, and rely less easily, as my husband does, on the kindness of strangers.”
In an age of technology, almost global use of the internet and an open network of like-minded travellers, setting off solo and staying safe is an easily achievable adventure.
1. Tap into technology
There are a host of resources to help with planning and preparing for a trip. Santos’ Wanderful (sheswanderful.com) is great for connecting with other women who travel, meeting up on the road, and having a safe and trusted support community. Inspired women should also check out The Travelettes (travelettes.net), which is a forum where female travellers, writers and photographers can share their travel tales online.
Getting a few apps on download is also worthwhile. React Mobile allows users to create a list of emergency contacts to be instantly notified if danger strikes. By tapping to “activate the shield”, GPS coordinates are sent to your mobile device’s contact list, with an option to link Twitter and Facebook accounts. There is also an option to send a message to police in a select number of countries. Safety Map Worldwide is another handy app. It reveals the level of public safety anywhere in the world and also notifies users if they stray into dodgy areas.
2. Get ready to go
While not all travellers like to plan with precision, it’s worth coming up with a rough route to pass on to loved ones ahead of departure, and scheduling times to “check in”. It’s also advisable to take photos of important documents and your passport and upload them onto a cloud.
Kimhean Pich, CEO of travel group Discover the Mekong, which covers Southeast Asia, recommends taking out travel insurance to protect travellers against not only theft but also accidents. “We have many single females who book with us. Too many ignore insurance despite travelling to developing countries, where health care is lacking.” He recommends ensuring travel insurance includes medi-evac, which means users are airlifted to a suitable hospital.
3. What to pack
Dressing appropriately and avoiding unwanted attention is vital when in a foreign country. If you plan on taking a trip to temples, remember to pack something that covers the shoulders and falls below the knees. If you’re travelling to a Muslim country, lose the skimpy skirt. Remember to keep bikinis and hot pants for the beach, and pack a sarong to cover up.
If you plan on staying in shared accommodation or dormitories, then invest in a decent padlock for luggage and an extra one for lockers to keep belongings safe. A slash-proof bag adds extra peace of mind. Pacsafe (pacsafe.com) offers a range of anti-theft gear for travellers.
4. When you land
It can be tempting to hop into the cab that’s waiting round the corner, offering a cheaper fare than transport at the airport or station. While it can be slightly more costly, pay the extra for a driver who’s licensed and registered. They will also be happy to call the hotel ahead of your arrival to confirm the address and booking.
Sim cards are cheap and can be picked up at most airports and convenience stores. Internet packages are also useful, meaning travellers can stay connected 24/7. Don’t forget to check in back at home to let loved ones know you have arrived safely. This can even be done by posting a photo of your new destination on social media – it will also fill friends with envy.
5. Where to stay
Book the first few nights in advance to avoid strolling strange streets at night looking for a place to stay.
There is a wealth of accommodation geared towards women travelling solo, as well as women-friendly tours and trips. Women Travel the World (womentravel.info) is packed with homestays, guesthouses and hotels for women, as well as tours, from women’s walking trips in Africa to luxury pampering at spas in Thailand.
Hostelbookers (hostelbookers.com) has a Girls on Tour section, which features hostels and dormitories catering to women travellers, with safety ratings as well as information about treats such as free champagne and complimentary beauty kits.
6. While you’re away
Walking around clutching a map is a dead giveaway that you’re new in town. Instead, download an offline map app, such as MAPS.ME, which feature offline map data, routing, search options and GPS support.
Learning some of the local language helps you to get around and get to know people, so try to pick up simple phrases, such as hello, please, thank you, and help. Find out the local emergency service number and store it in case it’s needed, and make sure you share your whereabouts with someone reliable.
Holidays often involve late-night drinks, but keep your wits about you and avoid walking alone after dark. Using apps such as GrabTaxi, which operates across Southeast Asia – although mainly in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – provides a reassuring ride home, as it works with already established, and reliable, firms. A handful of woman tuk tuk and moto taxi drivers now operate in Cambodia and Thailand, and Japan boasts women-only carriages on nine metro and rail lines in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
7. Have fun
Travelling alone as a woman brings with it a string of benefits. As well as the freedom to do what you want, when you want, lone females often get a warm welcome from locals. “I find people open themselves to me more,” says Santos. “A lot of this is driven by perception of women. I find myself connecting on a deeper level to other women, both local and travelling.”
Santos says that despite women still being regarded as second-class citizens in many countries in Southeast Asia and beyond, women hailing from an “economically advantaged Westernised country” can reap rewards. “Your position of access as a woman is different from everyone else,” she says. “Because you’re female, you can connect with local women, but because you’re a foreigner, you are less subject to cultural norms and expectations. It’s fascinating.”